t doesn’t look like Disney Pixar is running out of magic pixie dust.
Staying true to the Disney formula and message, Coco on paper sounds like a standard Disney film. So what makes Coco different to the cannon? Context.
Our protagonist is Miguel, a Mexican boy who is part of a family shoemaking dynasty. His hero is the late Ernesto de la Cruz, the greatest musician of all time. But unfortunately for him, his passion must be kept secret as music is banned in this tight-knit family. As the beautiful animations at the top of the film show us, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather was a musician who wanted to play his songs for the world. But with a young family at home, he had to make a choice. Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Imelda was left heartbroken and decreed that no music were to ever to be played in her family.
Our story takes place on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday where families put photographs of deceased loved ones on the ofrenda allow them to return home and to remember them. When Miguel accidentally destroys a part of it, the picture of Imelda, her husband (whose head has been torn off in anger) and their daughter, Coco, falls to the floor and the frame smashes. Miguel inspects this further to see that the photo has been turned over and that his great-great-grandfather is holding a guitar…. the same guitar that his hero Ernesto once played.
With the assurance that he was meant to be a musician he goes to Ernesto’s mausoleum and takes the famous guitar so he can play in the town’s festival. But everything is not as it seems. He starts to see skeletons and becomes invisible to the people of the town. His deceased relatives recognise him and take him back to their world to solve the mystery. When Imelda can’t cross over Miguel realises it’s on his shoulders as her picture is in his pocket. Declared as cursed for stealing the guitar from the dead, Miguel must get a blessing from his family to avoid being stuck in the Land of the Dead forever. Imelda gives Miguel his blessing with conditions. Upon his return, he must vow to never play music again. Obviously, Miguel accepting these terms is as ridiculous as trying to get small children out of the house on time. Not going to happen.
Miguel does the classic child trick of just asking the one who didn’t say no and runs away from his family in search for Ernesto to give him his blessing. He encounters Héctor, a trickster and a bit of a bum who agrees to help him if in return he’ll put his picture on the ofrenda as his spirit is fading due to no one remembering him in the Land of the Living. Pretty reasonable. And hijinks ensue.
Coco is a delight of a film. It’s colourful and bright but still able to tackle difficult topics like death, mortality and dementia perfectly. It doesn’t patronise its young demographic but instead explains it in such a light and subtle manner that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Trying to explain death to any child is complex enough but Coco takes it all in its stride. It reminds us that although people pass, their memory lives on. It’s also voiced by an entire Latino cast which is incredible. This film is vivid and beautifully crafted.